Rodney wasn’t too happy when John woke him up at oh six hundred for their first run, but since he’d already consented to having Ronon beat him up regularly with sticks, John pointed out that this would at least be a lot less painful. The new fitness requirements for SG teams had finally filtered through to Atlantis, and while Rodney was in pretty good shape for a scientist and got high marks for weapons accuracy, he still didn’t meet the minimum criteria for endurance and hand-to-hand.
“I can’t believe this,” Rodney puffed, as they crossed the bridge to the South Pier, the sun rising in a cloudless sky over the ocean, “I’m perfectly capable of running for as long as need be when I’m threatened with death.”
“Next time you take the test I’ll fire a few live rounds over your head, how’ll that be?” John asked. He wasn’t in the mood for Rodney’s complaints; personally, he thought the new regs were unnecessary – most scientists never went offworld, but for some reason they were all expected to shape up. There was talk of bringing in a personal trainer. This was pissing him off more than it should.
He didn’t realize he’d outpaced Rodney until he noticed he could no longer hear his heavy breathing. He slowed down and allowed Rodney to catch up.
“This arbitrary standards-based system is completely unfair,” Rodney panted. “Did I ever tell you about my traumatic experiences with Participaction?”
Rodney frowned. “I did? Really?”
“You were so proud of that silver you got for the standing broad jump in fifth grade,” John drawled. “Your only silver, ever, in a vast sea of bronze. Mary Wright always got the Award of Excellence, and she laughed in your face when you asked her to the dance in junior high.”
“Oh, okay, I’ve told you then.” He paused. “I don't think I ever used the phrase vast sea, mind you.”
“Call it poetic license.” They were approaching the water now; John briefly contemplated jumping in and ending it all. Instead, he veered left into a building and started up a long flight of stairs. That silenced Rodney for a while; he was too busy wheezing and huffing the occasional I hate you to manage anything like conversation.
When they reached the top – or rather, when Rodney finally reached the top about four minutes behind John – they stood side by side, leaning out over the railing. They were easily a good five hundred feet up, and John was reminded for the thousandth time that his home was absolutely spectacular.
“I still – have it, that’s – the sick thing,” Rodney managed.
“That’s because you love competition.”
“Only – when it’s actually about – something important. And only – when I have a reasonable chance – of winning.”
Now John did feel guilty. Rodney had probably pushed himself into stroke territory jogging up those stairs, and all because John was feeling resentful about being the guy who had to be responsible for guidelines some pencil-pusher a billion light-years away had thought would be a good idea, a pencil-pusher who didn’t have a clue what the dangers were out here. Thanks to John's directive after the siege, all of the scientists on this station could effectively handle P-90s, sidearms, zats and wraith stunners; anything else was just bullshit. You couldn’t outrun a Dart, and you couldn’t karate-chop a Replicator.
“You'll make it through this,” John said reassuringly, turning to lay a hand on Rodney's shoulder. “We'll take it easy, build your stamina – ”
And that was where John ran out of words, because he finally looked at Rodney and his mouth, literally, had gone dry. He'd been expecting to see a Rodney who was sweating profusely and was the color of an overripe tomato. True, he was kind of flushed, and there was definitely sweat, but the blood in his cheeks drew your attention to his wide blue eyes, and the sweat, well. It wasn't pouring off him so much as sheening his skin, making it glow.
That was kind of – uh. A good look for him.
Just as he started wondering why he'd never picked up on the fact that Rodney's skin was gorgeous, Rodney blinked and said, “What? Why are you staring? Am I that disgusting?”
John shook his head mutely, but Rodney had already dug out the small towel he'd wrapped around his neck and was scrubbing at his hair and his face. When he took it away, John noticed that his hair was sticking up in the front, making him look a little like an aging punk rocker, and shit, he should not be finding that hot.
“I hate exercising,” Rodney pouted.
John realized his hand was still clinging to Rodney's shoulder. He yanked it away as though Rodney had suddenly grown poisonous thorns. “Okay, c'mon,” he said testily, jerking his head, “it's easier on the way down.”
After that, John busied himself developing a plan for Rodney's improvement, building in a gradual increase of distance and speed that would have Rodney ready to ace those tests within a couple of months. He plotted out different routes, always with some point of interest or breathtaking scenery to anticipate and combat Rodney's complaints of boredom. While they ran, he thought about Other Things, like the dumbass personnel reports that were coming due again and the fact that he needed to get out and do some surfing before he forgot how; he did not think about Rodney sweating and glowing alongside him, more easily matching his pace with every session.
Of course, the end of the run would ruin every one of his good intentions, because Rodney might lift up his t-shirt to scratch his belly, the hairs sparse and dark, his fingers long and tapered. Or he'd hand Rodney the water bottle and stare helplessly as Rodney took a long, thirsty swig, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down. Or maybe Rodney would turn away from him and John would see the damp hair curling at the back of his neck, the beads of sweat trickling down his pale, pale skin, and suddenly he'd be thinking about stepping forward and – God, stop.
And then there came the time about six weeks in when Rodney was finally, fucking finally in the zone for the whole run. He was ready when John arrived at his door, he didn't complain once along the way, and at the end as they stood at the top of the control tower, he turned to John with a huge, guileless grin on his face and said, “You know, I never thought I'd say this, but I feel amazing!”
“Uh,” John said, feeling something begin to happen that would not be hidden by the thin material of his track pants for very long, “I, uh, I forgot I had a – a meeting to go to,” and fled.
His pants hit the floor about twenty seconds after his door whooshed shut, and his hand was wrapped around his dick about three seconds after that. Panting, he jacked himself off leaning against the wall, fucking into his closed fist with harsh, almost savage thrusts of his hips.
“Fuck,” he whispered when it was over, stepping out of his pants and heading into the shower, where he let the water run down over his body, the spray like tiny needles on his oversensitized skin.
On their next scheduled run day, John sent Ronon in his place.
Rodney, predictably, took it as a rejection, which John guessed it was. “Look,” he said, spreading his hands when Rodney showed up at his office door, arms crossed and expression belligerent, “I figured you were ready for the big leagues now.”
“Don't try to tell me you can't keep up with me,” Rodney snapped.
“It's not that,” John said, looking away, “it's just that I have all these reports – ” Which they both knew was also bullshit, since John ran at least that much every week on his own.
“Right, fine.” Rodney turned to go, his shoulders radiating that odd mixture of hurt and anger that was solely his own.
“Rodney, I – ” John began, but Rodney was already out of earshot, and really, what the hell would he have said anyway?
Rodney arranged for his own testing with the lieutenant that John had put in charge of the fitness training program, and that afternoon he showed up at John's door, flushed and sweaty and pissed off.
“I just wanted you to know I passed the tests.”
“Good,” John managed, because it had been a while since he'd seen Rodney like this, and Christ, it was like getting a double shot of heroin after you'd just finished a long and painful rehab. “That's good.”
“I came here to thank you,” Rodney said. “I've already thanked Ronon. I had some new sticks made for him.” He held out a box. “This is your thank-you gift.”
John took the box from him, speechless. There was a pair of new Nikes inside, the swanky Vomeros with the airsoles and the iPod sensors. “Wow. Thanks.” He forced his gaze to rise to Rodney's face. “I don't deserve them, though. You did it all yourself.”
“Well, maybe the last couple of weeks,” Rodney snapped.
“Dammit, Rodney,” John growled. He tried to shove the box back into Rodney's arms, but Rodney crossed them and shook his head. Turning, John thought the door closed, but Rodney was right behind him and slipped in before it shut. Fuck, John could smell him, that tang of new sweat and a faint hint of aftershave that used to drive him nuts.
“I only want to know why you stopped running with me,” Rodney said, and this time his voice was low and more than a little shaky. “Did I do something wrong? Did I violate some kind of secret jock code?”
John's hand was fisted in Rodney's t-shirt before he even knew he'd reached out. He had a brief impression of Rodney's huge blue eyes and his startled, open mouth before John kissed him, hard and close to bruising.
“You didn't,” John murmured when he pulled back, “but I did.”
Rodney's eyes darted over John's face, and he licked his lips. John realized that Rodney's hand was cupping John's hip, the thumb slowly rubbing back and forth, and he bit his tongue to keep from whooping out loud like a kid on Christmas morning. “You, um," Rodney said, "are you trying to tell me you – ”
“Yeah, I'm trying to tell you I.”
Rodney's mouth thinned. “Would it kill you to actually – ” he began, but that was as far as he got before John's mouth covered his again.
“How about I show instead of tell?” he murmured, his other hand gripping Rodney's ass and hauling him close, John's erection pressing insistently against Rodney's thigh.
“Oh, well, that would be – yes, fine,” Rodney babbled. Grinning, John slid to his knees, taking Rodney's track pants with him.
“So will you still want to do this when I'm no longer a jock?”
John looked up at him from his vantage point atop Rodney's hair-rough belly. “Rodney, you're not a jock. You're a geek who's in shape. Get it right.”
Rodney cocked his head at him. “So you like geeks?”
“I like geeks,” John affirmed. “But I like 'em sweaty.”
Rodney's fingers tangled in John's hair. “I think I can manage sweaty,” he promised. “As long as you're there to help.”
John dipped his tongue into Rodney's bellybutton and smiled at the soft gasp Rodney made. “Consider me your personal trainer.”